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Himalayan Salt Lamps: Benefits and Myths

Health + Wellness
Belchonock / iStock / Getty Images

By Helen West, RD (UK)

Himalayan salt lamps are decorative lights you can buy for your home.


They are carved out of pink Himalayan salt and believed to have various health benefits.

In fact, advocates of salt lamps claim they can clean the air in your home, soothe allergies, boost your mood and help you sleep.

However, others question whether these claims have any merit.

This article explores the evidence on Himalayan salt lamps and sorts fact from fiction.

What Are Himalayan Salt Lamps and Why Do People Use Them?

Himalayan salt lamps are made by placing a light bulb inside large chunks of pink Himalayan salt.

They have a distinctive look and emit a warming, pink glow when lit.

True Himalayan salt lamps are made from salt harvested from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan.

Salt sourced from this area is believed to be millions of years old, and although it's very similar to table salt, the small amounts of minerals it contains give it a pink color.

Many people choose to buy Himalayan salt lamps simply because they like the way they look and enjoy the ambiance the pink light creates in their homes. Meanwhile, others find their supposed health benefits alluring.

Summary

Himalayan salt lamps are carved from the mineral-rich, pink salt mined from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. Some people buy them to decorate their home, while others believe they provide health benefits.

How Do Himalayan Salt Lamps Work?

Salt lamps are said to provide health benefits because they are "natural ionizers," meaning they change the electrical charge of the circulating air.

Ions are compounds that carry a charge because they have an unbalanced number of protons or electrons.

They are produced naturally in the air when alterations occur in the atmosphere. For example, waterfalls, waves, storms, natural radioactivity and heat all produce air ions (1).

They can also be created artificially by commercially produced air ionizers.

It's suggested that Himalayan salt lamps may produce ions by attracting water particles that evaporate off as a salt solution when heated by the lamp, forming mostly negative ions (2).

However, this theory has not yet been tested.

Currently, it's unclear whether salt lamps produce ions in meaningful amounts, if at all.

Summary

Himalayan salt lamps are said to change the charge of the surrounding air by producing ions that have health benefits. However, it is not currently clear whether they can produce any or enough ions to affect your health.

What Are The Health Claims and Do They Stack Up?

There are three main health claims made about Himalayan salt lamps.

1. They Improve Air Quality

Salt lamps are often claimed to improve the air quality of your home.

More specifically, they are advertised as being beneficial for people with allergies, asthma or diseases that affect respiratory function, such as cystic fibrosis.

However, there is currently no evidence that using a Himalayan salt lamp can remove potential pathogens and improve the air quality of your home.

The claim that they are good for people with respiratory conditions may be partly based on the ancient practice of halotherapy.

In this therapy, people with chronic respiratory conditions are said to benefit from spending time in salt caves due to the presence of salt in the air.

Yet, there is little support for this practice, and it's not clear whether it is safe or effective for people with respiratory conditions (3).

Furthermore, tests on air ionizers, which emit high levels of negative ions, haven't yet been shown to benefit people with asthma or improve respiratory function (4, 5, 6).

2. They Can Boost Your Mood

Another frequently made claim is that Himalayan salt lamps can boost your mood.

Some animal studies have shown that exposure to high levels of negative ions in the air may improve levels of serotonin, a chemical involved in mood regulation (1).

Yet, human studies investigating claims regarding the psychological effects of air ionization found no consistent effects on mood or feelings of well-being (7).

However, researchers did find that people with depressive symptoms who were exposed to very high levels of negative ions reported improvements in their mood.

Nevertheless, the link they found wasn't dose-related, meaning that people's mood improvements couldn't be explained by the dose they received. Thus, researchers questioned whether the link was causal.

Additionally, it's very unlikely that salt lamps could expose you to the high number of negative ions used in these studies.

3. They Can Help You Sleep

Studies have not yet examined the effects of Himalayan salt lamps on sleep.

However, a review of the effects of air ionization on relaxation and sleep didn't find any evidence of a beneficial effect (7).

Thus, even if salt lamps do affect the air environment, it's not clear if this would have an effect on sleep patterns.

It's possible that using the dim light from a Himalayan salt lamp may help promote sleepiness toward the end of the day if you use it to replace bright electric lights.

This is because bright light before bed can delay production of the sleep hormone melatonin (8, 9).

However, this isn't specific to salt lamps, and the theory hasn't been tested.

Summary

Himalayan salt lamps are claimed to improve air quality, boost mood and help you sleep. However, there is currently little evidence to support these claims.

Do Himalayan Salt Lamps Have Any Benefits?

Although some of their health claims are not supported by science, Himalayan salt lamps may have other benefits.

These include:

  • They are attractive: If you like the way they look, they could be an attractive addition to your home.
  • They create a nice ambiance: They could help create a relaxing atmosphere that helps you unwind.
  • They might help limit light in the evening: If you struggle to sleep, using dim lights in the evening may help you get to sleep faster.

Overall, these points may make them a great addition to your home.

Summary

Himalayan salt lamps are inviting, create a warm and relaxing ambiance and may help you wind down before bedtime.

The Bottom Line

There is no evidence behind the health claims related to Himalayan salt lamps.

While they may be an attractive addition to a room and help create a relaxing environment, there's little to suggest they do much else.

More research on the theories surrounding their potential health benefits is needed.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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